Charm Over Laughter
John McGivern in A Kodachrome Christmas
Most holiday seasons, John McGivern can be found delivering endearing biographical monologues about his baby boomer childhood in Milwaukee. This holiday season, he takes a break from that to perform a piece by Pat Hazell. Hazell has worked with McGivern before on Bunkbed Brothers and The Wonderbread Years. Much like both of those shows, A Kodachrome Christmas is a show that mixes endearing emotion with straight ahead comedy for a warm and fuzzy show that, at its best is a heartwarming experience that values emotion over laughter.
McGivern plays Earlene Hoople--a small town woman who hosts a public access cable program. As directly present in the script, the humor from her character largely from folksy expressions and shopworn cliches. The laughter here doesn't come from the genuine humor of the character so much as it does from her charm. Popular analogs to this from sketch comedy include, most notably, any recurring character on Saturday Night Live. In the dialogue aone, she seems kind of like a cross between Mchael Myers' Linda Richman or Dana Carvey's Church Lady. If neither of these examples are "theatre" enough for you, think Sister from the Late Night Caatechism series and you're most of the way there.
The trick in getting an audience to genuinely enjoy a show with this type of character lies in finding an actor with enough charm to lift beyond the hack comedy of the script and elevate it to a genuinely enjoyable experience. In this respect, John McGivern is perfect for the role. Audeinces absolutely love McGivern . . . and even if he's not exactly playing himself here, he lends an irresistible charm to the character that makes it almost impossible to avoid having a good time at this show. I'm not a huge fan of Hazell's work, so I guess I was kind of trying to have a bad time at this one . . . (honestly didn't realize that until later) . . . and I simply could NOT do it. McGivern is simply too good at what he does for me NOT to have had a good time at this show.
McGivern's at his best here when he's interacting with the audience. McGivern gets an opportunity to do so on various occasions. If McGivern wanted to do something a bit more superficial, I don't doubt he could be a host of a long-running game show on network TV. Thankfully, he's not that shallow and we occasionally get to see him delve into some genuinely emotional stuff on local stage and screen. And it may not be as good as his own stuff, but A Kodachrome Christmas has its genuine emotional moments. Hazell's script does have some very serious and heartfelt moments . . . and McGivern handles them quite well. Earlene Hoople's husband has passed away and this is her first holiday show without him. Audiences connect up with the character through that . . . and to Hazell's credit, it's not something that's pounded into the show without any subtlety. It's there just enough to be a genuinely affecting emotional center to the whole thing. As much as I dislike Hazell's writing, I have a lot of respect for him as a theatre professional. He's exceedingly good at putting a show together. Between genuine emotions and genuinely cheesy humor, A Kodachrome Christmas is remarkably well-balanced.
A Kodachrome Christmas runs through December 31st at the Marcus Center's Vogel Hall.